Coronavirus - Finance & Benefits

Powys County Council has set up a dedicated phone line for financial advice and support. You can get in touch between 9am - 4pm Monday to Friday on 01597 826345.
 

Personal Banking and Current Accounts 

I've been informed that banks have agreed to act with patience and understanding when dealing with customers having trouble meeting the payments associated with overdrafts, credit cards, loans or other financial products.

To access this assistance, anyone having trouble paying their mortgage, rent, loan, overdraft, credit card or any other charge associated with their personal account to contact their lender or landlord, as appropriate, as soon as possible to work through the options.

 

Mortgage Payments

Lenders have assured me that they will support those having difficulties meeting mortgage payments as a direct or indirect result of the virus. This could include a payment holiday of up to three months, as announced by the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

 

Buy-to-let Landlords

The same option extends to residential buy-to-let landlords whose tenants are experiencing financial problems as a direct or indirect result of Covid-19. Moreover, lenders have put in place a three-month moratorium on residential and buy-to-let possession action, which started on 19th March. This should reassure households that they will not have their homes repossessed at this difficult time.

 

Energy & Utilities

The UK Energy Industry has said that it is working closely with the government on a daily basis to ensure that there is no disruption to the generation and supply of energy to customers.

Under these exceptional circumstances, suppliers have informed me that they are aware that more customers might be struggling and, in particular, those in vulnerable circumstances or customers with prepayment meters may need extra support with repayments or topping up meters. If a customer is struggling, they should contact their energy supplier. Suppliers will endeavour to support customer that find themselves in financial distress where they can, which could include debt repayments and bill payments being reassessed, reduced or paused where necessary.

If a customer is self-isolating and unable to top up their meter they should get in touch with their energy supplier. There will be additional support in place to ensure customers stay connected on a case by case basis. Such support could include nominating a third party, having a discretionary fund added to their meter, or being sent a pre-loaded top up card so that their supply is not interrupted.

 

Scams

Criminals are already using the publicity around Covid-19 as a chance to pose as genuine organisations. Banks, police officers, the government, the World Health Organisation and other health-service providers are among those being impersonated.

Often criminals pretend to offer help and guidance or claim they are dealing with an issue as a result of the virus. Meanwhile, fraudulent emails, phone calls, text messages and social-media posts are claiming to be able to help customers by providing a safe haven for their money, investment opportunities or even medical guidance.

Using Covid-19 as a cover story, criminals then attempt to get recipients to disclose personal or financial information or click on links that may contain malware, which they then use for their own fraudulent purposes. Criminals are experts at impersonating people, organisations and the police. Banks and the police will never ask the public to transfer money or move it to a “safe” account. 

You should contact your bank immediately if you think you have been victim of a scam and report it to Action Fraud.

 

Work, Benefits & Debt

In summary, employees who are ill or self-isolating will be eligible to receive sick pay from day one if they earn above £118 a week. People who are not eligible to receive sick pay (including self-employed people or those earning less than £118 a week), can claim benefits (Universal Credit or Employment and Support Allowance). 

Requirements for benefit claimants to attend Jobcentre appointments in person have been relaxed. The first payment of Universal Credit takes five weeks to be paid, but repayable advances are available. Employment and Support Allowance can now be claimed from day one.

Both Universal Credit and Working Tax Credits have been increased by £20 a week.

 

Statutory sick pay (SSP)

As with any other illness, a person who is off sick with coronavirus or self-isolating will be entitled to statutory sick pay under the Social Security Contributions and Benefits Act 1992 (which is reserved legislation). This applies retrospectively from 13 March.

SSP is the minimum level of pay employees are entitled to. Many will have a right to enhanced sick pay under their employment contract.

Only ‘qualifying employees’ are entitled to SSP. Social security legislation uses a slightly broader definition of ‘employee’ which includes those who pay Class 1 National Insurance Contributions. Agency workers and people on zero hours contracts might also deemed to be employees. But to qualify, employee’s average weekly earnings must be above £118.

SSP is payable for a ‘period of incapacity for work’ (PIW). This is the period where an employee is incapable of working due to illness, or self-isolation. SSP is normally paid from the fourth ‘qualifying day’ within the PIW, but the UK Government has relaxed this rule so SSP can be paid from day one.

On 13 March the UK Government urged employers to “use their discretion about what evidence, if any, they ask for” for sick pay purposes. The NHS Direct Wales website can provide employees with s ‘self-isolation’ note.

 

People who aren’t eligible for SSP (including self-employed people)

The UK Government announced in the Budget that people who are not eligible for SSP, for example the self-employed or people earning below £118 a week, can now more easily make a claim for Universal Credit or contributory Employment and Support Allowance if they have to self-isolate:

  • For the duration of the outbreak, the requirements of the Universal Credit Minimum Income Floor will be temporarily relaxed for those who have COVID-19 or are self-isolating according to government advice, ensuring self-employed claimants will receive support (see next section for further detail).
  • People will be able to claim Universal Credit and access advance payments upfront without the current requirement to attend a jobcentre if they are advised to self-isolate.
  • Contributory Employment and Support Allowance will be payable, at a rate of £73.10 a week if you are over 25  (for eligible people affected by COVID-19 or self-isolating in line with advice) from day one of sickness, rather than day eight.

‘New Style’ ESA may be payable to people, whether employed or self-employed, who have a disability or a health condition which affects how much they can work (such as coronavirus). This is as long as they have paid enough national insurance contributions in the last two to three years.

 

Self-employed UC claimants

For most self-employed UC claimants, after they have been self-employed for a certain period (usually 12 months, with certain exemptions) awards are calculated as if they earn national minimum wage for the number of hours they are supposed to work. This is even if their actual income is lower than this.

This is known as the ‘Minimum Income Floor’ (MIF). If their earnings fluctuate over the year, this can result in self-employed people receiving considerably less than an employee with exactly the same annual income.

As part of the Budget, the Chancellor Rishi Sunak, announced he was: “temporarily removing the minimum income floor in Universal Credit.” The Budget document clarified that this applied to those “directly affected by COVID-19 or self-isolating according to government advice” and this would be the case “for the duration of the outbreak.” It said this would ensure self-employed claimants are compensated for losses in income.

People can apply for Universal Credit and Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) online. It is possible to get Universal Credit at the same time, or instead of, ESA.

The first payment of Universal Credit takes five weeks to be paid, but repayable advances are available without physically attending an appointment.

 

Existing benefit claimants

The UK Government’s Department for Work and Pensions’ (DWP) advice to Universal Credit claimants who are not able to work or attend interviews at the Jobcentre because they have contracted coronavirus or are self-isolating is to contact their work coach by phone or through their online journal as soon as possible.

The UK Government said claimants will not face sanctions if they choose to self-isolate because of coronavirus as long as claimants inform them of the issue.

On 16 March the UK Government said that disability benefits claimants will not be required to attend face-to-face assessments for three months. The change also covers health checks for Universal Credit.

Universal Credit and Working Tax Credits have been increased by £20 a week on top of annual uprating.

On 13 March the UK Government said:

  • people who need to claim ESA or Universal Credit because of coronavirus will not be required to produce a GP’s fit note
  • when claimants tell us in good time that they are staying at home or that they have been diagnosed with coronavirus, they will not be sanctioned – we will review their conditionality requirements in their claimant commitment, to ensure they are reasonable
  • claimants who are staying at home as a result of coronavirus will have their mandatory work search and work availability requirements removed to account for a period of sickness.

The Universal Credit website also has a section on coronavirus.

 

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